Thirteen students recently gathered at the Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy incubator farm to receive graduation certificates for a year-long farmer training program called Farm Beginnings. The Organic Growers School, in partnership with NC Farmlink and Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy, launched the program as a part of the Farm Pathways project; Integrating Farmer Training & Land Access, a whole-farm training and innovative land access program for new and aspiring farmers in the Southern Appalachians. Three partners are collaborating to implement this training and this year’s class completed a full year that covered whole farm planning, holistic goal setting, agroecology, financial literacy, business start-up and management, marketing and one on one mentorship.
Each Farm Beginnings student has gone through a full year of training, 13 winter classroom sessions, 3 conferences, participated in WNC CRAFT and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) Incubator farm workshops, completed readings and farm proposal assignments, and over 200 hours of trainings, to fully graduate and complete Farm Beginnings. These aspiring farmers came to this training with a dream and an idea, and dedicated themselves to learning the field of sustainable agriculture and business management.
After a year of hearing directly from farmers about what they need to know and prepare for, one of the students reported, “From the beginning and throughout the interactions we’ve had over the course of the program, the Farm Beginnings class and instructors have helped us feel so supported and confident.”
The students have a range of interests from microgreens, indoor mushrooms, forest medicinals, education and agritourism farms, that they distilled down over the course of the year to develop a learning plan that they implemented April through September of this year with the oversight and guidance of their farm mentor. Will and Savannah Salley of Headwaters Market Garden, incubatees at the SAHC incubator farm state, “The mentorship is an aspect of Farm Beginnings that has been extremely helpful for us. Evan Chender (the Culinary Gardener) is an amazing farmer and incredible mentor and we are so thankful to have him as a resource. His experience and guidance is immeasurable for us as new farmers.” They are a low till, biointensive vegetable micro farm in Alexander, NC.
The recurring theme throughout the student’s presentations this year was, “We know how to make decisions and find the resources we need to make our farm a reality.” Dreaming of a farm and planning for and having a farm are two very different things and Farm Beginnings helps students to understand why they wanted to farm and how they want to do it. Some students are actively farming, like Headwaters Market Garden, Far Flung Farm (agritourism) and others are set to launch medicinal herb and mushroom enterprises, microgreens and some are continuing on their learning journey by working on more farms and deepening their agricultural knowledge. All referenced their holistic goal as a guiding principle that helped them to make decisions that reflected their values and desired quality of life.
Quote from Farm Beginnings graduate: “Thank you for your passion and interest in helping people explore and refine their farm dreams towards something which can be successful, I have highly valued everything learned with OGS, I am one of y’alls biggest cheerleaders,…”
Funding partners for this year-long farmer training include Carolina Farm Credit, French Broad Food Co-op, EarthTools, Mountain Rose Herbs, Biltmore, Red Moon Herbs, Living Web Farms, Chelsea Green Publishing, The Community Foundation of Western NC, Polk County Community Foundation, Clif Bar Family Foundation, Simply Organic 1%, USDA-Rural Development, and the USDA’s NIFA-Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program.